Spent a couple of days in Portland last week and tried to take advantage of the visit to accomplish two things which I'm always willing to do - try a new restaurant, and chow down on some biscuits and sausage gravy. To this end (these ends?) I made my way in the A.M. to the Front Room at 73 Congress Street on Munjoy Hill, an area that is becoming a mecca for interesting new chef-owned restaurants. The space itself is delightful, with green painted walls and lots of wood and brick. A full bar fills the front window, and an open kitchen is along the back wall. The Front Room serves a full breakfast menu, which is what brought me there, as well as lunch and dinner, and their prices are almost too low to believe.
After being pleasantly greeted and seated, I ordered a large fresh squeezed orange juice, coffee, biscuits and gravy, two poached eggs, and a side of home fries, all items upon which I judge the relative merits of a breakfast restaurant.
First the good news. The OJ was fine, but it's hard to mess up fresh squeezed. The coffee was excellent, and I ended up having 4 cups. The poached eggs were beyond excellent, they were the veritable paradigm of poached eggs. These were the best poached eggs I have ever had, anywhere, anytime. I don't know how the chef managed to get the whites *and* the yolks both perfectly cooked at the same time, with no trace of gooey undercooked white, and not one speck of hard overcooked yolk, but I'm sadly convinced that never in my life will I ever have poached eggs like this again.
Now for the not so good news. The home fries were unremarkable, and they were on the cool side to boot. But the biscuits and gravy was the real disappointment. Whoever came up with this recipe needs to go to the library and check out a good Southern cookbook. The two biscuits were about 2 inches high, with round, not flat, tops, and had a cornbread-yellow interior. The texture was dense, not flaky, and in fact they gave a remarkably good impersonation of scones pretending to be biscuits. Now, in my experience, biscuits and gravy is composed of two essential parts: biscuits, and, well, gravy. The dearth of gravy applied to these scon.., umm, biscuits, was, in a word, astonishing. At first I wondered whether my order had been misinterpreted, and the chef thought I only wanted poached eggs, but a closer inspection of the "biscuits" revealed a slight discoloration of the crowns, and some almost microscopic bits of dark matter which turned out to be sausage-like material. To say that these biscuits were covered in sausage gravy, a state of being devoutly to be wished, would be highly inaccurate. Basted? Dipped? Painted? You know how, when you make some pies, you are supposed to brush the crust with an egg wash? These biscuits could best be described as having been brushed with gravy. The end result was that with each bite of biscuit there was absolutely no discernible taste of sausage gravy.
How could they have gone so wrong? Had I been magically transported into a Mr. Boffo "People Unclear on the Concept" cartoon? Was this some kind of bizarre Down East version of biscuits and gravy? Did the chef run out of sausage and was too embarrassed to admit it? I was too perplexed to inquire, but I will remember, oh yes, I will remember.
If anyone has any alternate reality experiences to relate concerning the Front Room, I would be glad to hear about them. I really wanted to like this restaurant, and some of the "comfort food" style dinner items sounded delicious (braised beef short ribs, yummers).